Sunday, June 11, 2006

Mmmm... cheesy goodness

The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is in the middle of a wonderful series devoted to The Golden Age of British Horror, 1955 - 1975. Last night Sean, Curtis, Howard and I took in a couple of the more science fiction-ish titles: X, the Unknown and The Crawling Eye.

X, the Unknown sounded like the more promising of the two titles. A sentient slime has risen from 2000 miles below the surface of the earth to start feeding on radioactivity; it, in turn, emits radioactivity that fatally burns anyone who comes in contact with it, all the while growing larger and more powerful. It's up to a scientist (Dean Jagger, the lone American in this British/Scottish production) and an inspector from the British Energy Commission (a young but instantly-recognizable Leo McKern) to figure out how to stop it. Hmmmm... reading back over that description, it's hard to say why I thought this premise sounded "promising," but the first half of this flick is quite entertaining. Jagger and McKern are an appealing duo, the location work is impressive, and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster generates some genuine mystery in his script. Anthony Newley does a nice job in a (mercifully nonsinging) small role. Then -- I dunno, it just got kind of dull and I kept dozing off. I woke up for the end, when Jagger and McKern join forces with the military to blast the slime to kingdom come. After the huge explosion, a bunch of enlisted men run towards the blast site -- in excitement? to inspect their work? -- and are knocked flat on their arses by a second, smaller explosion. "What was that?" Jagger exclaims. "That wasn't supposed to happen!" Then the military officer congratulates him on a job well done. The End. Huh? Were they setting up a sequel? I'll never know, because after a short intermission, we were into The Crawling Eye.

The Egyptian's program had informed us that this movie is also known as The Trollenberg Terror. IMDB states that its other aliases include Creature from Another World, The Creeping Eye, and The Flying Eye. Although we were prepared to be flexible, imagine our surprise when the title card appeared (and lingered, and lingered, enhanced by a woman's agonized screaming) stating that we were about to see Night of the Living Terror. No problem: we knew this movie was going to be great fun, based on the opening scene's rubbery mountain sets (every time an actor leaned against the rocks they squooshed inward), overwrought dialogue (also by Jimmy Sangster), and the first of two decapitations. This story involves a radioactive cloud permanantly floating alongside Trollenberg mountain in the Swiss Alps. Forrest Tucker plays Alan Brooks, a U.N. inspector called in to investigate matters. I was very irritated to hear this character described as being "about 40." I'm 40, and this guy was pushing 60, I was sure of it. When I later looked him up on IMDB, however, I learned that Tucker was born in 1919, making him no more than 38 or 39 when this movie was made, and my irritation has since turned to pity. And the way he kept lighting up, as well as offering cigarettes to other characters, it's no wonder he died of lung cancer, poor fellow.

Back to the plot, such as it is: This radioactive cloud is presumably from Outer Space, acting as a cover for creatures seeking a new home. As it, or they, acclimate to the atmosphere, the cloud begins to move down the mountain, in an apparent bid to take over the world. Two sisters traveling on the same train as Brooks become involved in the terror as one of them, a telepath, is irresistably drawn to the cloud. Whatever's in the cloud, of course, wants to destroy her so she won't reveal the takeover bid until it's too late for the rest of us. There's another decapitation, a couple of reanimated corpses, lots and lots of Molotov cocktails, and Laurence Payne as Philip Truscott, an extremely natty reporter who just happens to be on the scene. The actresses playing the sisters are quite attractive. Janet Munro, who plays telepathic Anne, is wide-eyed with interestingly crooked teeth. Jennifer Jayne as older sister Sarah, however, is clearly positioned as the "eye candy," as Howard put it; her shoulders are bare whenever the script can manage it, and she constantly threatens to fall out of her low-cut dresses. The film climaxes in a mountain observatory with a lot of explosions as military planes fire-bomb the place to rid the world of the crawling eyes.

And what of these crawling eyes? Well, that's exactly what they are: giant, veiny octopus-looking things, each equipped with a single bloodshot eyeball, that slither up and down the Alps with ease. Every time one appeared on screen the audience laughed and cheered and applauded. Truscott points one out on the closed-circuit TV screen in the observatory and remarks, "Cute little things, aren't they?" "Yeah," Brooks reples grimly. He points to the screen. "I'm gonna throw a bomb at that one." The film's miniature work is on a par with its rubbery mountain sets. Still, The Crawling Eye is utterly enjoyable, full of laughs and entertainment and people getting stabbed and shot and strangled.

Tonight at the Egyptian: Curse of the Demon (aka Night of the Demon) and Burn, Witch, Burn! (aka Night of the Eagle).

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